Recruiting volunteers is very much the same business as recruiting sponsors. You need to point out to both sponsors and volunteers why your club is unique and valuable. In addition, however, you will need to tell volunteers that it is also fun, rewarding, and a source of personal development.
Screening the intake
You want volunteers, but you may not necessarily want just anybody. You need to think about screening your applicants, because
- You’re going to be assessing prospective volunteers to see if they fit the needs of your club roles – to see whether they’re competent, whether they get along with people, whether they have the skills you’re looking for and fit the position description. You need to assess their trustworthiness as part of the process.
- If someone does come forward to volunteer whom you don’t think is suitable, it is going to be very difficult to justify rejecting them unless you have a policy and a system in place that provides criteria for acceptance.
- It’s for their own good. They’re going to be working with the other volunteers, and they want to know that they are able to trust them to do the right thing; and the other volunteers want to know the same thing about them.
- You never know. All sorts of people can do wrong things. There can be no real guarantees about anybody, whether they’ve been screened or not; but we can guarantee that if a volunteer does go wrong and you hadn’t checked him or her before they came on board then your club could be in big trouble – with the law, with your public liability insurers, with the other club members, and with your sponsors. You may be sued, or prosecuted, or pilloried.
- In some Australian states, in some situations, dealing with some groups, the law says you have to. Even where there’s no specific legislation, you have a duty of care to the people you have dealings with, and that means you must exercise reasonable care with respect to their interests, including protecting them from harm.
- In most cases, it’s a sensible precaution.
Don’t present this as an extra bureaucratic hurdle; show prospective volunteers that it is for their protection, and that it is to ensure that they will be joining a special group that they can be proud to belong to.
The best way or recruiting people and the best way of raising funds from people are identical; have one of their friends go up to them and ask them. You may have to resort to other less productive methods later, but start with this one. Organise your Board / Committee to buttonhole five people each. Ask your existing volunteers to chase their friends.
A recent National Survey of Volunteering looked at the variety of ways in which people get involved in volunteering. 47 per cent said that “someone asked me to help”. Those who were not volunteering but who expressed an interest in doing so wanted “a personal invitation to help” and “a chance to volunteer with a friend or colleague”. 37 per cent who did not volunteer said that they would if they were directly invited to. If you’re still not sure, ask a few friends why they joined some group. You’ll find it’s most often because someone they knew asked them.
Now you have learned the most important lesson about recruiting:
PEOPLE JOIN WHEN SOMEONE ASKS THEM TO JOIN
You may ask “Isn’t this very slow?” It may seem slow, but it gets you actual real breathing members on the ground faster than anything else. It’s what works. We are so bombarded by T.V., social media. magazines and newspapers that we often think that personal contact is ineffective, that we need more “modern methods.” Ask yourself, though, how the pressure you feel when someone you know asks you to do something compares to the pressure you feel when you see a toothpaste ad on the T.V.. Which makes you feel more motivated? And you’re not just selling a transitory minty-fresh experience like toothpaste, you’re asking people to make a meaningful commitment over the long term.
As one volunteer activist said, “I don’t recruit people. I just think who might be able to help, tell them what we need, and ask them to do it. They hardly ever turn me down.”
Wider still and wider
This won’t be enough by itself. Word-of-mouth is by its nature limiting — volunteers tend to recruit people much like themselves, which limits diversity. You must make an effort to get a spread of people, even at the beginning – in fact, especially at the beginning. If people come to a meeting and see the group does not look like them they feel uncomfortable, and that’s the last time they come. This happens at every subsequent meeting, and the mix you start with turns out to be the same mix you end up with. To reach a more diverse group of volunteers, additional tools are needed.
If you’re putting on an event, try and recruit from the people you’re selling to. If they have a good time on the day, they may want to get more closely involved with the club. Consider holding special social events such as club days to show prospective volunteers (and your friends and family) that volunteering is fun as well as work.
Make your recruiting program a central part of your whole marketing and public relations program. When you have access to the media, or when you are getting your message out to the public or members, include a call for volunteers. Whenever your club has an event or function, ask for volunteers.